Indonesians Lobby Their Autocrats

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JAKARTA, Indonesia: How do you force an authoritarian regime to change its ways? Indonesians are using the only leverage they have: chaos. As the country's ruling elite huddles in Parliament, loudly promising a transition to democracy but hoping to cede as little power as possible, protesters outside the building Thursday grew to an unruly throng of 20,000 that clashed with overmatched police and left dozens injured. "They're trying to push their rulers toward genuine reforms," says TIME correspondent William Dowell, "with the threat of a widespread uprising."

The activists shouldn't be too optimistic. In the international arena, foreign investors would prefer just about anything to a reprise of last May's rioting. At home, current president B. J. Habibie retains -- and depends on -- the backing of the army, and student protests aren't likely to put military leaders in a responsive mood. "Habibie and his government have lost the support of the people," says Dowell, "but the ruling elite has most of the guns."